EXCLUSIVE: I’m told of big news affecting Hollywood coverage by The Paper Of Record: The New York Times is shaking up its personnel. L.A.-based movie editor Michael Cieply will now become one of the newspaper’s Hollywood reporters. And former media editor turned writer Lorne Manly will take Cieply’s place as movie editor, moving the job back to NYC. I gotta say this is a surprise: I’d heard Cieply was unhappy, but Manly’s move really floors me. This is also hard for me to write about because so many of the people involved are long-time friends. But here goes: Both Cieply and Manly are veteran journalists who’d been in their respective jobs since July 2004. (For more about their careers, read my 2004 LA Weekly online and column coverage.) Manly, a native Canadian (whom I call “my favorite alien”), came to the NYT from the New York Observer, Brill’s Content, and Inside.com, and had many years on the media beat at both papers. He is by no means a Hollywood expert, though at the NYT he has, from time to time, edited and even co-bylined some showbiz industry stories. As movie editor, Cieply was the go-to guy for Hollywood since virtually all movie coverage in the Culture section passed through his computer. He also coordinated with the NYT‘s Business Section which also recently named a new showbiz editor.
Cieply covered Hollywood biz for Forbes and then The Wall Street Journal and did two separate tours at the Los Angeles Times separated by what I call his Lost Years (when he tried his hand at movie producing, and then returned to journalism first at Inside.com and then as a freelancer). He came to the NYT when, in the summer of 2004, that paper was heavily raiding the LAT, where he was a Business section movie industry editor and writer. (I reported at the time how cool, calm and collected LAT managing editor Dean Baquet threw a temper tantrum upon learning that Cieply was even considering a job offer from the NYT. So Cieply went on the lam to the LAT’s famed Globe Lobby and paced around deciding his future.) The NYT hired him to edit from its NYC headquarters, an offer Cieply told me at the time was “a great job” and “a life opportunity”, noting: “Anybody in my spot in my life who didn’t look at that would be crazy.” But a year later, in an unusual concession, the paper at his request agreed to let him edit from its Los Angeles bureau when he wasn’t enamored of the Big Apple. Even so, Cieply was still miserable — supposedly with the NYT‘s multi-layered bureacracy — and talked to pals about leaving the paper to freelance or write a book.
Cieply’s decision is major since that means there are now 5 1/2 writers full-time on a beat that the NYT used to cover with one from here: the others are Sharon Waxman and David Halbfinger who write for the Culture section from L.A., Laura Holson who writes for the Business section from L.A, freelancer Allison Hope Weiner who works out of L.A., and David Carr out of New York but who frequently scribbles from L.A. Given today’s newspaper boasts a half-page house ad promoting Carr, I’d say he’s clearly become one of the NYT‘s biggest stars and the lead Hollywood scribe (even though his knowledge of showbiz is miniscule compared to Cieply’s). Interesting aside: I understand that the NYT decided not to send any of its Los Angeles correspondents to cover Sundance news this year, citing money woes. Only Carr was dispatched — underwritten by the paper’s Internet side, which employs Carr as The Carpetbagger on an Oscar blog. Meanwhile, Waxman recently signed with Times Books to pen Stealing from the Pharaohs, about the burgeoning conflict over who owns ancient art. But she will not be taking any extensive leave.
This latest news begs a lot of questions: Will the NYT keep all 5 1/2 reporters on the Hollywood beat? Is Cieply’s addition a reaction to the fact that 2006’s NYT summer movie coverage for the Culture section was AWOL since both Waxman and Halbfinger appeared distracted by other news? Is it a recognition that Cieply may have been the right man in the wrong job? Could this show an understanding that, with the Pellicano trial heating up again in advance of the August trial, it may require the full-time attention of Halbfinger and his reporting partner, Weiner? Or may this be the first step in an overall reorganization? Hmm.